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Stealthing is a crime – even if he gaslights you with these all-too-common responses

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Please be aware this article contains details of rape and sexual assault that may be triggering.

With over 140k Instagram followers, Lala is the anonymous voice helping womankind through every bump in the road. An established sex, dating and relationship educator, she’s had her fair share of relationship drama and shares her wisdom on social media to a loyal army of followers.

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A few years ago, I remember reading loads of articles about a ‘new trend’ called stealthing – a term used to describe condom removal during sex without consent.

The word sounds like something a crafty clever fox would do in order to get food to survive; and calling it a ‘new trend’ makes it sound fashionable. But stealthing is not clever, nor is it a trend – it is rape.

I want to emphasise that as strongly as possible. It is rape.

If you gave your consent on the condition that the sex was protected by a condom, and your sexual partner removes the condom without your knowledge or consent, then they have broken the conditions on which consent was agreed.

It is perfectly reasonable to state that you would like to have sex, but you would also like to protect yourself from STIs and pregnancy by using a condom.

If your agency and body autonomy is removed without your knowledge, and violated by the other person, then they have assaulted your body. They have subjected you to risks that you intended to protect yourself from. Consent is conditional.

Consenting to one sex act doesn’t mean you consent to all. Consenting to sex doesn’t mean you have consented to the other person doing whatever they want sexually. You are able to set conditions, you are able to say yes to oral sex but no to penetrative sex, or yes to safe sex and no to unsafe sex.

Thankfully, this is now recognised as rape in British law (there have also been convictions in Germany, Australia, and Sweden).

In the UK, a man was convicted in 2019 after removing a condom when he was with a sex worker. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. This was a landmark case and proves that the law takes this seriously. It is particularly encouraging that the law worked to give justice to a sex worker when sex workers are so often failed and left vulnerable because the law tends to punish rather than protect them.

There was an excellent portrayal of stealthing in Michaela Coel’s TV series I May Destroy You. It was particularly brilliant because the character who removes the condom, Zain, is presented as a really nice guy. He is sweet and supports Michaela’s character Arabella with her work, he is kind, slightly geeky and a little shy. During sex he takes off the condom, which she only discovers when she sees it on the floor afterwards. When Arabella confronts him, feeling angry and betrayed, he says: “I thought you could feel it.”

So many people think of rape as being a violent act perpetrated by psychotic frightening men who jump out of alleyways and drag women off the streets. But, in the vast majority of rape cases, it’s not a terrifying stranger it’s a man who we know. It’s someone who we agreed to date or hang out with at home. And with rapists who commit the act by stealthing – it’s nearly always someone who we considered to be decent – who we agreed to have sex. They are someone who we trusted enough to consent to them being inside us.

It is such a betrayal of trust. It is a violating and abusive attack from someone who you would not expect it from. It’s incredibly disarming and can leave you questioning how you are supposed to feel/react/deal with it. Especially because their response can often be gaslighting or negging. Here are some examples of negging or gaslighting responses:

“Come on, you must have known, you saw me take it off when we changed positions.”

“It was you that pulled it off! I just went along with it babe.”

“Oh my God, where did it go! I’m so sorry, that was an accident. I had no idea.” (He definitely had an idea – they can feel the difference…)

“I can’t stay hard with a condom on/it doesn’t fit, and I was too embarrassed to say anything. I’m so sorry.”

“What’s the big deal, it’s only a condom.”

“How big is your vagina for you to not have felt that it was gone?!”

“The sex was pretty crap, you were just lying there, I had to do something to make it feel better”

They might even try the ‘romantic’ route – “I have got strong feelings for you, I wanted to feel closer.”

So, even though you may know that what they have done is rape, you may also end up feeling a sense of confusion or self-blame. Their gaslighting or negging can make you feel unsure about whether perhaps it was your fault, or that they didn’t mean to, or that you are being over the top in feeling upset. You aren’t, but it is very easy to be made to feel that way.

If you are subjected to stealthing then you have the right to report it to the police. If you intend to do so, then it is helpful to go straight to the police before showering or changing your clothes. They may wish to collect evidence that could be lost by washing it off. But often it takes time to come to that decision. It takes a lot of thought and reflection, not least because most of us are aware of how low convictions are for rape and sexual assault.

Home Office figures show that out of 52,510 rapes reported in 2020, only 843 resulted in a charge, a charge does not always lead to a conviction though, and rape convictions have declined by 64% since 2017. Women know that even the most serious rapes often aren’t taken seriously, and that if they are and the case gets to court, that we are likely to be dragged through the courts and made to look like wanton sluts who couldn’t possibly have been raped because we were drunk, or at someone’s house, or because we had previously sent them nudes.

We know that pursuing justice in rape and sexual assault cases can often be equally as traumatic as the rape itself, and very often for no good outcome. We have the right to report, but we also know that the system is against us, and that very often leads to us simply doing nothing. I have heard of several police officers responding to stealthing reports by saying things like “Are you sure you want to ruin this man’s life over a condom?” By making it so hard to get justice, the system has basically decriminalised rape.

If you feel able to, I’d still recommend reporting though, even if there is a slim chance of conviction. At least it would mean that there was a report against their name. But if you don’t wish to, you have nothing to feel guilty about. You may wish to get PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) which is a combination of HIV drugs that can prevent you from contracting HIV if taken within 72 hours of possible exposure to the virus. You should also take the morning after pill if necessary and seek an STI screening two weeks after the incident.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with stealthing. You have to address it in the way that keeps you safest and most easily able to get through it.

There is no right or wrong way to feel either, some people may feel extremely traumatised, whilst others might feel pissed off but not devastated by it. However, I do believe that there is only one right way to deal with the perpetrator, and that is to see their behaviour as a huge red flag and to cut off your connection to them.

If someone can so callously and selfishly place their sexual desires above your right to set boundaries for your own body, then they are not a safe person to have around. They don’t respect you. It is deceptive and coercive. There are no grey areas. Even if there was no physical violence, they have committed a violent act against you, and they should not be allowed to remain in your life.

You can contact Rape Crisis for help and support if you need it. You are not alone.

For more of Lala’s wisdom follow @Lalalaletmeexplain on Instagram.

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